As you are undoubtedly aware, the midterm elections are upon us. Polls will open at 6:00 am on Tuesday, November 2, and close at 7:00 pm. This is one of the most important elections of our lifetime, so I encourage each of you to make your way out to the polls and vote. In addition to your congressional election, you will have the opportunity to vote for three constitutional amendments. Below is information on each of them.
Ballot Question 1 Article X, Taxation and Finance.
Section 6, Exempt Property.
Ballot Question: Shall Section 6 of Article X of the Constitution of Virginia be amended to authorize legislation that will permit localities to establish their own income or financial worth limitations for purposes of granting property tax relief for homeowners not less than 65 years of age or permanently and totally disabled?
Present Law: Under the Constitution, the General Assembly may give localities the power to grant full or partial exemptions from real estate taxes to persons 65 years of age or older or for persons permanently and totally disabled. The exemption applies to owner-occupied property used as the sole dwelling of such persons. The exemption is currently available only to such persons who bear “an extraordinary tax burden” in relation to their income and financial worth.
Proposed Amendment: The proposed amendment (i) removes the requirement that tax exemptions are available only to such persons who bear “an extraordinary tax burden,” and (ii) gives the General Assembly authority to permit localities to determine their own income or financial worth limitations for tax exemptions for persons 65 years of age or older or for persons permanently and totally disabled.
Ballot Question 2 Article X, Taxation and Finance.
Section 6-A, Property tax exemption for certain veterans.
Ballot Question: Shall the constitution be amended to require the General Assembly to provide a real property tax exemption for the principal residence of a veteran, or his or her surviving spouse, if the veteran has a 100 percent service-connected, permanent, and total disability?
Present Law: Currently, the Constitution does not grant real estate tax exemptions specifically to veterans. However, the Constitution does allow the General Assembly to give localities the power to grant full or partial exemptions from real estate taxes to persons 65 years of age or older or for persons permanently and totally disabled who “bear an extraordinary tax burden” in relation to their income and financial worth. This exemption applies to owner-occupied property used as the sole dwelling of such persons.
Proposed Amendment: The proposed amendment would require the General Assembly to pass a law exempting from local taxation the principal residence owned and occupied by any veteran with a one hundred percent service-connected, permanent, and total disability. The veteran’s surviving spouse could continue to claim the exemption so long as he or she does not remarry and continues to occupy the home as his or her principal residence.
Ballot Question 3 Article X, Taxation and Finance.
Section 8, Limit of tax or revenue; Revenue Stabilization Fund.
Ballot Question: Shall Section 8 of Article X of the Constitution of Virginia be amended to increase the permissible size of the Revenue Stabilization Fund (also known as the “rainy day fund”) from 10 percent to 15 percent of the Commonwealth’s average annual tax revenues derived from income and retail sales taxes for the preceding three fiscal years?
Present Law: The Revenue Stabilization Fund (also known as the “rainy day fund”) is used to offset shortfalls in anticipated revenues in any given year, and thus is designed to provide a cushion in the event of an economic downturn. The Constitution currently limits the Fund to 10 percent of the Commonwealth’s average annual tax revenues from income and sales taxes for the preceding three fiscal years.
Proposed Amendment: The proposed constitutional amendment increases the maximum size of the Fund from 10 percent to 15 percent of the Commonwealth’s average annual tax revenues from income and sales taxes for the preceding three fiscal years.
Virginia House of Delegates Art Contest
I would like to encourage all local students to participate in the Second Annual Statewide Art Contest, hosted by the House of Delegates' Clerk’s Office. The contest is open to all K-12 public, private, and homeschooled students across the Commonwealth. The winners of the contest will be invited to Richmond to spend a day at the Capitol with their delegate during the 2011 session. Additionally, they will receive a $100 United States Savings Bond and framed certificate, which will be presented to each winner on the floor of the House. This is a great opportunity for children who are artistically inclined, and I hope they will use their talents and creativity to explore Virginia’s heritage. If you want more information you can contact my office at 540-332-3998 or by email at email@example.com, or call the Legislative Education and Development Office at 804-698-1500. Entry forms and additional details can be found at http://house.state.va.us/art/art_contest_2010.pdf
Local Medical Centers
I would also like to announce that the Virginia Health Care Foundation has awarded four grants, totaling $289,995. The grants are for local medical centers and help each facility provide for patients who are struggling as a result of the recession. In July, three grants totaling $259,365 were awarded to organizations in the 20th District. A grant of $99,990 was provided to the Augusta Regional Dental Clinic to purchase equipment for four new dental operatories that will enable it to provide over 2,000 additional patient visits to local children and uninsured adults each year. A second grant of $75,000 was provided to the Harrisonburg Community Health Center to help provide salary and benefits for a full-time pediatrician to provide care to many children in the area. A third grant of $84,375 was provided to the Highland Medical Center to assist with salary and benefits for a full-time dentist to provide dental services to the community. In September, a fourth grant of $15,315 was also provided to Highland Medical Center to help provide free prescription medications to uninsured chronically ill patients in Highland County. This funding supports a Medication Assistance Caseworker who will help eligible patients receive medications as a part of RxRelief Virginia. I am very pleased to be able to announce that our local health care centers have received these grants. They come at a time when many people across the district are struggling with the high costs of health care. I hope that many will be able to benefit from services provided as a result of these grants.
As most everyone knows by now, the Governor is pressing forward with plans to privatize the Virginia ABC stores. Recently we offered a poll question to see if voters in the District supported such action. We received very few responses one way or the other, and they were fairly equally split. Since then we have received numerous emails on the subject, again split, but generally favoring privatization. I thought I would share my position, thoughts and concerns with you.
I believe that private sector enterprise is much better at the retail business than state government, and I favor privatization in concept. The present plan, however, raises many questions. It is important to understand that if the plan was adopted today we would likely have to find $47 million in further budget cuts to offset the lost revenue. There is also a strong feeling among many that the plan favors big box retailers over smaller, independent businesses, and that many smaller retailers could be forced into an unfair competitive position that might endanger them. There is also some question as to whether 1000 licenses is the right number and if the proposed auction process is the fairest way to go.
Like most legislators I have spoken to, I am keeping an open mind at this point. As the plan continues to evolve I will continue to monitor its progress and gather all the information available to me. I will listen to arguments on both sides before making my decision. As the process continues I encourage you to make your thoughts known to us. That way I can do my best to represent your best interests.
Tea Party Convention
On Friday, October 8 and Saturday, October 9, I attended the Tea Party convention in Richmond. It was a great event, with over 3,000 attendees. I got to hear some fantastic speakers, including Ron Paul and Lou Dobbs. It is great to see such a powerful grass roots movement gaining momentum.
"In God We Trust" License Plate
As some of you may know, I will be carrying a bill in the 2011 General Assembly session to create a specialized license plate with our national motto, "In God We Trust." In order for this bill to pass through the Transportation Committee, the Department of Motor Vehicles must have 350 pre-paid applications on file. We can’t get this passed without your help. If you are interested in purchasing an "In God We Trust" license plate, you can download an application at www.ingodwetrustvaplate.com. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I am holding weekly office hours in my district office on the 2nd floor of City Hall in Staunton. I am in the office from 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm each Thursday. Additionally, I am holding monthly office hours on the 2nd Friday of every month at the Highland County Public Library in Monterey. My next Highland office hours will be on Friday, November 12 from 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm.
Ask the Delegate
With the 2011 session approaching, I want to hear from you with your thoughts, questions, and concerns. I would like to encourage you to submit questions to me. You can email your questions to email@example.com, and I will provide a personal response.
Last month I asked if you support legislation to change Virginia’s law to allow limited hunting on Sundays. We received a lot of responses to this question, and found that opinions across the District are very mixed on this issue. I look forward to hearing more from you and discussing this further should legislation be brought before the House on this issue.
I need your help to continue to get my message of small government out there. The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia prohibits members of the General Assembly from raising money during the Legislative Session. If you are able to help me with a donation of any amount, please click here to make a secure donation online prior to January 12, 2011. You can also mail a check made out to Bell for Delegate to P.O. Box 239, Staunton, VA 24402. Thank you in advance for your help.